Brian De Palma Richard Combs - Essay

Richard Combs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Too broad in its effects and too bloated in style to cut very deeply as a parody of The Phantom of the Opera, Brian De Palma's [Phantom of the Paradise] is closer to the anything goes mode of a Mad magazine lampoon. De Palma's last feature to be released in this country, Blood Sisters [also released as Sisters], was a reasonably efficient pastiche/parody of Alfred Hitchcock; here he seems to have been infected with a large dose of [Ken] Russellmania, and while not up to the razzle-dazzle effects that the Master commands on a doubtlessly larger budget, Phantom of the Paradise nevertheless offers fair competition to and comes on much like Tommy…. Unfortunately, the mating of the [Phantom and Faust] legends proves simply to be the film's most spectacular coup, rather than the basis for any kind of comic reworking of either. The entertainment, in fact, develops into a loudly trumpeted advertisement for an ever-receding subject, and the packaging becomes increasingly desperate; like the noisily unimaginative messiah plot which overtakes Tommy once the hero has been projected through the looking glass into his true identity, Phantom of the Paradise winds itself by way of conclusion into an awful mélange of orgiastic pop concert and the vicarious, electronic excitement of a Kennedy-Oswald-Manchurian Candidate assassination attempt, televised coast-to-coast…. The presentation of Paul Williams' pastiche rock songs … redeems the movie in patches, and in those songs where he picks up the Faustian elements of the plot, Williams treats them with greater wit and variety than De Palma manages in his overblown, comic-strip visuals. (p. 113)

Richard Combs, "'Phantom of the Paradise'," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1975), Vol. 42, No. 496, May, 1975, pp. 112-13.